Swindon Festival of Poetry 2014 – Sunday 5th October
Well. What a profound, powerful, personalised poetic jamboree that was. I’m not sure I have the words to do it justice but I’ll do what I can. I am speaking listeners of the double bill of offerings that took place today at the Museum and Art Gallery in Old Town. In all honesty I went primarily to listen to Mike Pringle – as I know him personally from having had some involvement with the Richard Jefferies Museum over the summer. But as I had nothing special to do today and the double bill was a bargain price I figured I might as well do both and I’m very glad I did.
I can’t lie and pretend that poetry is my very favourite thing. Much like folk and country and western music there’s elements that I find interesting and affecting but overall it’s not my favourite medium. I make no bones about it: I like my poetry to be accessible and to benefit from brevity. So I surmised, correctly, that today’s offering: ‘The War Poets with Jonny Chambers’ would be of interest and fit my poetry criteria. And it did. The talk consisted of a series of introductions, delivered by Jonny Chambers, of contrasting or complementary “pairs of poems” written by men and women in the First War. It traced their different experiences and outlooks during the course of conflict – from the enthusiastic recruitment of 1914 to action in the trenches and on the Home Front concluding with various reflections following the Armistice in 1918. The readings were by Ann Taylor and Tim Snowdon. I started out taking notes about the poems – then remembered I no longer have to do that. Once an English student always an English student I guess. 😉 I enjoyed – well I’m not sure that ‘enjoyed’ is quite the right word given the subject matter … but took a lot from it. I’m very glad I made the effort.
After a brief break Mike Pringle took to the lectern. Mike’s talk and presentation was, on the face of it, about his new book ‘Five Chances’ and its inspiration by a Wilfred Owen poem ‘The Chances‘: ‘Mike Pringle, author of Swindon: Remembering 1914-18, takes us on an exploration of Great War poetry and Swindon via his new novel ‘Five Chances’, itself inspired by a Wilfred Owen poem about the horrific odds of trench warfare.’ And indeed it was that. But it was also much more than that. As Mike talked about his family military background, his writings about and involvement with Swindon in the Great War, his efforts to give the ordinary soldier a voice – as Owen did in his poem – he wove through it all and shared with his audience some powerfully drawn, personal and straight-from-the-heart reflections on the human condition, on life and its fragility. Towards the end of his talk he sounded a whistle. An actual whistle from the period that would have been the clarion call to soldiers such as the characters in his book to go ‘over the top’. The very last sound that was ever heard by so, so many of them. Including Wilfred Owen. Luckily for us there today that’s not the last sound we will ever hear and we were left feeling very grateful for that. As indeed we ought to feel. if we are lucky we can return to the Swindon Poetry Festival next year and hear new, different, poetic sounds. And how great is that? Mike concluded his presentation by giving everyone a shot of Rum – just before those poor buggers in the trenches were about to run for their lives across no-man’s-land they were given a shot of rum to help quell the fear and nausea in their bellies at who-knows-what they were about to face. With this shot of Rum Mike urged us to toast … life. Amen to that.
So I’ll conclude this post with a virtual toast of my own: to Mike Pringle, Hilda Sheehan, Michael Scott and all that contribute to the cornucopia of creativity to be found in Swindon. And yes – even to that bloody Dog. 😉 Cheers!
Earlier this week I managed the briefest of pop-ins to the central library where some great poetry was happening. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to stay long yesterday but managed to say hello to the lovely Hilda Sheehan and also Michael Scott who was wearing the most eye-catching pair of trousers! I also managed to get a good look at the splendicious poetry festival lectern masterminded and created by Mike Pringle.
Lovingly created from wood from the gorgeous garden at the Richard Jefferies Museum it has some poetry on the inside and on the outside a lovely reference to the Bluegate Poets: http://bluegatepoets.org/
Here’s a few photos from the poetry in the library and from today:
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